Approximately 90 million Americans are family caregivers these days, up nine percent from 2010. Stepping into the caregiving role can happen gradually or in an instant, such as when a family member gets sick unexpectedly.

No matter how it happens, being a caregiver is never easy. Every day is long for employees who are juggling work and family responsibilities, including dealing with insurance bills, scheduling medical tests and going to doctor visits.

Fortunately more businesses want to help employees deal with the strain of caring for loved ones. While some companies have extensive employee outreach programs, many are getting the job done on a smaller scale.

Even with limited resources, “it’s still possible to support employees,” says Joel Hopper, Chairperson of Kimberly-Clark’s Family Caregiver Network, who explains, “a small budget, flexible work policies, corporate approval of employee networks and a passionate group of volunteers can make a huge difference.” 

Employee resource groups

"It’s easy to see the number of care recipients growing as the baby boomers grow older, but the facts are that the number of care recipients is growing at every age level, as our veterans return home from war surviving more severe battle wounds and children with special needs are living longer as adults."

Employee resource groups (ERG’s), which are also called affinity groups, can be beneficial, since they’re typically organized and supported by fellow employees who are going through the same caregiving issues.

Some ERG topics Hopper has seen recently include looking at the role of pharmacists, as well as the relationship between a doctor and a pharmacy, and a series of meetings about dealing with dementia.

Balancing caregiving and work

Caregivers are not alone in their struggle to help their family and be a good employee at the same time.

Most Fortune 500 companies have ERG’s, which benefit both employees and the business. Employees feel relieved to have help from their peers and their bosses, while companies are meeting the needs of their employees, who otherwise might be too stressed to do a good job at work, or even come to the office at all.

Hopper explains the importance of Employee Assistance and Resource Groups:

Mediaplanet: What’s at stake for employees who are caregivers?

Joel Hopper: It’s clear that many employees have to devote time to caregiving responsibilities, though those responsibilities are often unseen by their employers. The pressures felt by an employed caregiver show up as stress-related illness: depression, chronic diseases, premature aging, increased risk of mortality, higher utilization of health care, decreased productivity, high absences, and financial losses from reduced work hours and increased expenses. In a survey done by the National Alliance for Caregiving, 10 percent of caregivers said they had to give up work entirely.

MP: Why is it important for employees, employers, providers and the community to be prepared “before the crisis?”

JH: More people at increasingly younger ages will spend more years caring for family members than ever before. It’s easy to see the number of care recipients growing as the baby boomers grow older, but the facts are that the number of care recipients is growing at every age level, as our veterans return home from war surviving more severe battle wounds and children with special needs are living longer as adults.